Wally’s Words

A few weeks ago Caroline and I made a list of all the words Wally’s knew at the time, when he was 17-months old.  It has taken me awhile to get it together to publish that list, and in the meantime his vocabulary has grown fast enough that I doubt my ability to make an accurate list of all the words he knows as of today.

Below is Wally’s word list at 17-months-old alongside a list we made for Jay when he was 19-months-old.  Jay’s is slightly longer but he was two months older.  All told Wally is learning to talk faster than his big brother did, a point I emphasize in order to spark sibling conflict when they’re older.

Comparing the two lists you see that there’s a lot of overlap: 16 of Wally’s first 39 words were among Jay’s first words, too.  To the extent that vocabulary differences reflect personality differences, I’d point to Wally’s early acquisition of the word “dancin'” (which he loves to do atop our dining table whenever we turn our backs) and Jay’s early acquisition of the word “keys.”

Wally’s Words (at 17-months)

  • Hi/Hello
  • No
  • Bye
  • Hot
  • Down
  • Mama
  • Daddy
  • Cheese
  • Mine
  • Nose (“no”)
  • Ball
  • Train (“too-too”
  • Apple
  • Peanut Butter (“PB”
  • Book
  • Banana (“nana”)
  • Kitty
  • Ow
  • Shannon (“danon”)
  • Puffed wheat
  • Yay
  • Raisin (“bindin”)
  • Smoothie (“poon”}
  • Toast (“toe”)
  • Shoe (“too”)
  • Boom-boom
  • Poop
  • Boo
  • Up
  • Vroom-vroom
  • All done
  • Noodle (“nu-nu”)
  • Hug
  • Airplane (“ah-deen”)
  • Dancin dancin’
  • Baby
  • Pumpkin
  • Bedtime
  • Leaves
  • Yogurt
  • Moo
  • Neigh
  • Bird
  • Bending (he taunts Jay by “bending” books in front of him)
  • Goat
  • Baby

Jay’s Words (at 19-months)

  • Hi/hello
  • No
  • Bye
  • Hot
  • Down
  • Mama/mommy
  • Daddy
  • Cheese
  • My/mine
  • Nose (“no”)
  • Ball
  • Choo-choo
  • Apple (used for apple and orange)
  • PB
  • Books (“buuts”)
  • Banana (nana)
  • Yes/yeah
  • Door (“doa”)
  • Bottle (“boppy)
  • Opa, Papa, Jackie, Emma, Andrew/Andy
  • Juice (“jis”)
  • James (“Jem,” pronounced with French j)
  • Keys
  • Please
  • Teeth
  • More
  • Thank you (“geek-um”)
  • Snow
  • Toes
  • Eye
  • Cheek
  • Chin (“sheen”)
  • Car (“ca”)
  • Cracker (for cracker and cookie)
  • One
  • Two
  • Water
  • I love you (“olive”)
  • School (“kool”)
  • Elmo
  • Open
  • I want (“I wa”)
  • Bumblebee (“bumbee”)
  • Wall
  • Coat
  • Phone (“pone”)
  • Elbow
  • Bath
  • Spot (“pot”)
  • Fun (“pun”)
  • Moon (“boon”)
  • Tree (“tee”)
  • Come
  • Shoes (“shiz”)
  • Boots
  • Bubbles

A moment at night through Jay’s eyes and mine

We celebrated Thanksgiving in upstate New York.  For three days Jay and Wally circulated among cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends and enjoyed the pleasures of the rural life: barn exploration, tractor rides, digging in freshly harrowed fields.  I felt like a grim character in their lives who popped up only to bring bad news: time for bed, time to brush your teeth, no you cannot have any more cookies.

Now we’re back home and both boys are sick.  It’s a cold, but a bad one.  The 11-hour drive home on Saturday took years off of Wally’s life, I swear.  I picture him now, strapped into his car seat, crying, coughing, shrieking at times in pain, his moist face illuminated by the empty orange glow of Interstate-90.  It makes me want to dive beneath the blankets on our bed and not come out for days just thinking about it.

But I was out of bed a lot last night to tend to Jay, who was awake with a hacking cough.  It’s a sign of his growing maturity, I think, that he never cried or even whined through it all.  Instead he just called to us over and again: help me get to sleep, I can’t stop coughing, sing me a lullaby.

And at 2am, my head resting against the railing of his crib, my hand upon his back, I did sing him a lullaby, the only one I know, Tender Shepherd in rounds.

My voice was constricted with fatigue and by a cold of my own, and the first few times I sang the song to Jay I was aware, even in the dark, with the vaporizer gurgling behind me, of just how badly I was missing each note.  But then I recalled how as a child I’d thought my mother’s singing voice was the most beautiful in the world, even though I suppose it probably wasn’t, and as I sang to him I thought maybe Jay was feeling that same way about mine.

Every now and then I get a glimpse of the place I occupy in Jay’s world.  It happened about a month ago while Jay and I were raking leaves together.  As we worked my mind was occupied with present-tense adult kinds of thoughts: I thought about how cold it was outside, about how many leaves we had left to rake, about Caroline inside trying to make dinner with Wally grabbing at her knees, and about how every time Jay tried to scoop leaves with his little plastic shovel, he had the effect of dispersing them further about the yard.

Then in an instant—and just for an instant—my perspective shifted, and suddenly I saw that fall afternoon as I remember seeing fall afternoons when I was a very young kid, and in a moment of vertigo, I realized that I am to Jay as my father is to me in those memories.  It seemed impossible that I could be so large in the expanding panorama of that little boy’s life.  Impossible, and breathtaking, too.

And last night as I sang a lullaby to Jay in his crib I had the same experience.  When I began to sing my mind was cluttered: I thought about how tired I was, and about how many times I needed to sing that song to Jay before I could tiptoe away, and it occurred to me that the last syllable in shepherd is “herd” as in one who herds sheep, and I thought about how my friends would have laughed to hear me sing so off-key, and I thought about how my mom had sung me that same song, and about how when I’d heard her sing there’d been nothing else in my mind but the sound of her voice.

That’s when my perspective slipped again.  I realized that to Jay this moment in his crib with his dad singing to him was the clear, uncluttered leading edge of his young experience in the world.  I saw myself not from inside myself, but from outside myself, as a father occupying a place in a kind of foundational memory that Jay is likely to return to for a very long time—a memory of when he was young and sick, coughing alone in his crib, and his dad walked through the door and suddenly he felt safe again.

It is a wonderful feeling to occupy such a central place in another person’s life, and to share a degree of intimacy that allows me to see the world through Jay’s eyes more clearly than I can see it through any other set of eyes besides my own.  The experience is instructive, too, as a reminder that even at age 31, the world is still being created before my eyes, even if I don’t look as intently as I used to.

Does time together watching TV make the rest of the day easier?

Earlier today Jay looked at me and said, “I’d like glasses like yours.”

“No you don’t,” I replied, explaining that I need glasses because my eyes don’t work so well and he doesn’t because his eyes are really good.  Afterwards I recalled how as a kid I took such pride in my own youth- the fact that my bones healed fast when I broke them, that I didn’t have to worry so much about heart attacks or cancer.  As a kid I suspected that I wouldn’t be young forever but in my heart I didn’t see how I could ever grow old.  And so today I wondered if, as I noted to Jay the difference between his eyesight and mine, I was beginning the process by which Jay will come to mythologize his youth, too.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about today.

In forty minutes an alarm will go off down in the playroom where Jay has spent the last half hour by himself, playing with train tracks, rolling in boredom, and peaking up the stairs to ask me when quiet time is going to be over.

Our routine of late has been that when the alarm goes off Jay is allowed to watch one episode of Blue’s Clues, the 1990s kids TV show, after which we’ll wake up Wally, should he not have awoken by himself already, and then we’ll pack off to get Caroline.

I don’t know exactly how television became part of Jay’s daily routine.  I think I may have proposed it first, as a way to create a carrot with which to bait Jay into good behavior during quiet time.  Plus, as someone who watched a lot of afternoon cartoons growing up, I have warm associations with the ritual of zoning out in front of the television at this slack point in the day.

So Jay watches Blue’s Clues every weekday afternoon and each day I decide whether or not to join him.  At first I used his television time as a way to further my own work time.  But more recently I’ve been watching alongside Jay.

I don’t have any particular love for Blue’s though I don’t find it flagrantly annoying in the way of that other show Jay and Wally have spectated from time to time, Go Diego Go.  But I do love what this twenty-five minutes of television allows me and Jay to develop.  Though not overly cuddly most hours of the day, Jay’s happy to lean against me and lay his head on my shoulder as we watch Blue’s.  We rarely talk.  Sometimes we intertwine fingers.  Sometimes I fall asleep.

Cause and effect are hard to figure in the context of raising kids.  When Wally cries for 30 minutes before falling asleep as he did last night, I have no idea why.   Jay’s good moods and bad moods seem to come and go randomly, or at least in response to forces that I can’t perceive.

But I can say this.  On the days that Jay and I watch Blues together the rest of the afternoon almost always goes more smoothly than it does on the days that we don’t.  It has to do with intimacy, I think.  Our time together on the couch brings us closer together which makes it easier for us to coordinate all the practical chores we have to negotiate afterwards: putting on his coat, getting him into his car seat, keeping him from taunting Wally with his fruit leather (which Wally is not allowed to eat on account of the associated gagging risk) as we drive north to campus.

Put another way, on the days Jay and I watch Blues together it feels afterwards like we’re dancing together and on days we don’t it feels like we’re drifting near each other in space.

In order to give that statement more teeth I’m going to conduct an experiment.  Over the next week I’ll watch Blue’s with Jay every other day.  Each day I’ll time how long it takes me to get Jay’s shoes on, from the moment I first introduce the idea to him to the moment that the second piece of velcro is adhered on his second shoe.  My hypothesis is that on days we watch Blue’s together it will take less time to get Jay’s shoes on (on account of increased cooperation) than it will on days we don’t watch together.

Wally as a tool for social mischief

Jay taking a leap with his new haircut. The picture is most notable as the first one I took after getting our long-broken camera fixed this morning.

There are all sorts of new social dynamics you get to experience once you have kids:  You get ogled like a supermodel as you walk down the street with a newborn strapped to your chest; you learn what it’s like to be unwelcome when you and your kid sit down next to a childless traveler on an airplane; you get unsolicited parenting advice shouted at you out the windows of moving cars; you find yourself in conversation, over and over again, with complete strangers based solely on the fact that you both have kids.

But my favorite experience of all took place this morning.  We drove downtown to get Jay a haircut and afterwards walked over to Bruegger’s Bagels for breakfast, which we’d forsaken in our rush to get out the door that morning so that Jay could be first in line at the barbershop.

We ordered our bagels and sat at a corner table.  Next to us there was a young couple, early twenties, not married.  She had on a “Michigan Law” sweatshirt.  He had bed-head, a fresh face, and wore a thin, expensive-looking sweater.

She kept looking over at Wally and then turning back to her companion and saying something to the effect of “Isn’t he so cute.”  The guy smiled faintly and mustered something like “Oh yeah” in reply.  The dynamic repeated itself over the next fifteen minutes.  Wally kept being cute.  She kept looking at Wally.  He kept being way less interested in the cute kid than his girlfriend was.

This type of situation occurs all the time and I always love it.  I get a mischievous zing out of displaying my adorable toddler in a way that produces minor tension in someone else’s relationship.  And between me and the other guy involved, it feels almost like taunting: Haha, buddy!  This is going to be your life too reaaaaaaaal soon!

Taste Tyrant: Should I impose my own candy preferences on Jay?

Wednesday night after the trick-or-treating was through, Jay and I sat down on the kitchen floor and spread his haul between us.  His tiger costume lay in a heap beside him and his head slumped on his shoulders, tired.  But as he ran his hand through his small mountain of candy there was a gleam in his eyes that suggested a thought: How is such a night even possible?

I realized that to Jay the candy laid out before him was alluring but mysterious so I decided to fill him in.  He picked up one piece at a time and I named it for him: Starbursts, M&Ms, Jolly Ranchers, Sweet Tarts, Nestle Crunch.

And as I named them I editorialized.  A starlight mint?  Junk, I told him.  A bag of gummies?  Boring, I said dismissively, tossing it back onto the pile.  Almond Joy?  Eeew. A box of Milk Duds?  Now that’s a real get, I exclaimed breathlessly.

As we named and evaluated, I was conscious of how with each comment I was shaping Jay’s early relationship with candy, passing on my tastes and preferences, honed over years of obsession with sweet things, but still, ultimately, arbitrary.  I wondered if it was fair or wise to bias him against coconut confections before he’d even tried one, or to preload his first experience of Milk Duds with my own enthusiasm for chocolate covered caramels?

There are many areas in which I’m happy to influence Jay.  I don’t mind teaching him to look both ways before he crosses the street and I don’t mind teaching him to be kind to his brother or to say thank you when he’s given something.

When it comes to safety or morals or social norms, it’s clearly better to guide than to leave kids to figure things out on their own.

But when it comes to matters of taste I always feel more heavy-handed, and I wonder if by expressing my own preferences I’m short-circuiting Jay’s rightful exploration of the world.

After we finished with the candy we went upstairs and I asked Jay to pick out two books to read before bed.  I hoped, as I do every night, that he might pick one of the great stories on his shelves: The Lorax, One Morning in Maine, Owl Moon.  But instead, as he often does, he picked a large hardcover on trucks and a board book in which the New York Yankees go through the ABC’s.  (I hope my friend Eric is not reading this post; I wouldn’t want him to know how effectively he infiltrated our Red Sox-nation household with the gift of that book.)

Jay handed me the book on trucks but instead of opening it I said, “Wouldn’t you rather read Time of Wonder?” As I reached for Robert McCloskey’s lyrical, beautifully water-colored children’s book about life on the Maine coast, I felt a little guilty: Was I teaching Jay that his choices don’t matter?  Was I selfishly prioritizing my own desire not to spend the next fifteen minutes naming different types of construction equipment?  And, most worrisome of all, if I insisted on Time of Wonder, would my tyranny of taste have the unintended long-term effect of turning Jay off to reading altogether?

But Jay is not a delicate bird.  He started to whine as soon as I mentioned Time of Wonder and then he tried to pull the book from my hands.  As it turned out, he was even more committed to his preference than I was to mine, so after a minute we settled in and let Derek Jeter tell us about all the things that start with the letter “J.”

And indeed, Jay’s tastes are probably less moldable than I think.  Some times I wish he were more open to my influence while others I’m happy not to feel responsibility for his choices.  Yesterday after lunch, for example, he was allowed to choose a piece of candy for dessert.  After many minutes sifting through his bag he settled, finally and inexplicably, on a long, skinny Tootsie Roll.  As he sat down to eat it, I felt unburdened to be able to think: That, my friend, is on you.